(2 / 5)
Aficionados of the crime novels of multi-award winning playwright Peter James and their central character, Detective Superintendent Roy Grace, will no doubt have been thrilled (forgive the pun) to discover that another of James’ books – the third in the series – has been adapted for the stage. In Not Dead Enough, DS Grace has still not come to terms with the unexplained disappearance of his wife ten years ago. The DS’s present relationship comes to the fore in a complex murder case with the main suspect claiming to have been sixty miles away when he murdered his wife – despite the fact that all the clues add up. Intriguing, eh?
Unfortunately, there is a caveat. What promises to be a gripping evening’s entertainment is a slow burner with a lack of pace that does not bode well; the wait for the kettle to boil seems interminable. Director Ian Talbot does his best, but this world premiere production, adapted for the stage by Shaun McKenna, whose adaptations of James’ previous two crime novels worked so well, fails to get going until almost the end of Act I. It is difficult not to become bogged down in a surfeit of minutiae, most of which ignore the sound advice of “show not tell.” Do we really need quite so much technical info as to what goes on behind the scenes in police investigation of murder? (Murders, actually – there is more than one.).
After a three year run in ITV’s Emmerdale, Bill Ward stars as the dishy DS, focussing on the man rather than the senior police officer. This is all very well, but at times it can make one feel irritated. When he does manage to keep his mind on the job, Ward’s Grace could be more emphatic. Opposite him, television presenter Laura Whitmore makes her professional theatrical debut as Cleo, Grace’s amore, who spends her working hours in charge of the mortuary and her off-duty time with Grace – when he is not off seeking the solution of the wife whose disappearance is still a mystery. Stephen Billington is suitably outraged as Brian Bishop, the chief murder suspect but could give a more sympathetic performance.
The action moves between Brighton and Hove police station and the mortuary. For those of a macabre taste, the latter setting may have added an enjoyable chill to the proceedings, but might have worked better if designer Michael Holt had been given the go ahead to design two separate sets rather than the split set used, with front of stage as the former with the freezers and cold rooms of the mortuary at the rear. Lighting designer Jason Taylor comes to the rescue to some extent with lighting that chills in all the right places.
The DS Grace crime novels are deservedly best sellers and the previous two books adapted well for the stage. Their popularity almost filled the theatre on opening night in Cardiff with an audience already on the edge of their seats with anticipation. Muted applause at the end was a reflection of the feeling that what works on the page doesn’t always cut the mustard on stage.
Runs until Saturday 24 June at the New Theatre Cardiff.
(5 / 5)
NOT DEAD ENOUGH
Review by Third Act Critic, Jane Bissett
NOT DEAD ENOUGH – if ever there was a understatement for a title of a play this is it. This adaptation, although from a book of the same title, was a very much alive, fast moving drama which moved at a pace that ensured the audience was running alongside, wanting more but never left behind.
Peter James is an acclaimed author of crime fiction and Not Dead Enough is the third book in a series of 13 featuring DS Roy Grace. As a writer of crime fiction James has researched extensively interviewing convicted murderers and has a great insight into the criminal mind and indeed that of the seasoned detective. As an avid reader I am always in awe of the person who has the ability and imagination to adapt a book for the stage but Shaun McKenna has this cracked. He has done an outstanding job of bringing the story to life in the most believable way and I am sure with the approval of the novelist, Peter James.
All credit to an amazing Creative Team of; Director, Designer, Lighting, Sound, Production, Costume and Props who have created an environment before us of a Pathology Laboratory, a Police Station and an outside scene where it is as easily believable as the more sophisticated setting of the lab. In fact the staging of this production is the key to its ability to draw the audience into the world that James’ has created for us.
It is difficult to talk about the story line without giving away too much. If you have read James’ novels then you will be familiar with DS Grace and know him already and you will be entranced as the James’ characters are brought to life before you.
I guarantee this crime thriller will have you on the edge of your seat. Indeed at one point the gentleman sat next to me exclaimed out loud, in reaction to DS Grace searching for something, “It’s not in the box!” clearly this audience member was totally immerced in the investigation, as were we all.
All productions have their leading roles however, in Not Dead Enough all the characters were of equal importance to the storyline and you would be easily convinced that they were police officers who had worked together for years not actors playing a role.
However, that said I have to mention Gemma Stroyan who played Bella Moy and Gemma Atkins who played Sophie Harington.
Stroyan gave us a confident portrayal of a female police officer which was seamlessly believable at every level, comfortable in her skin and confident in what she was about. I would like to think that maybe James would take her character in the future and promote her to the central character in her own novel(s).
Atkins also gave a polished performance as Harington keeping us guessing about who she really was and what (if anything) she was really up to.
During the interval the auditorium was alive with chatter and theatre goers were talking not only amongst themselves and also with neighbouring audience members as to what they thought was going on, who had done what and making predictions about how it was all going to conclude.
Like DS Grace, I wanted to believe the main suspect, but how could we?! What was the evidence showing us? Who was safe? Who was next? WHAT WAS GOING ON?!
It would be wrong for me to tell you more but be aware it is not over till it’s over and even then not all the questions will have answers.
At curtain call the volume of the applause was only just that above the whistles of approval. This is an unmissable crime thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat and wanting more all the way until the end.
I for one will be looking more closely at James’ novels and perhaps it will be my summer reading for 2017.
And for the record, on the way out people were still chatting and animated about what they had just seen.
NOT DEAD ENOUGH plays at Cardiff’s New Theatre from;
Tuesday 13 June – Saturday 17 June at 7.30pm
On Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday there are performances at 2.30pm.
For further details about the show or to book tickets call the Box Office on 02920878889.